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Stay home, vote from home

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Athens County Board of Elections. File Photo by Morgan McCarthy.

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in The New Political’s summer magazine.

Ohio’s presidential primary was held largely by mail because of  COVID-19. Voter turnout in Athens County was just over 21%, down more than 20% from the 2016 primary.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the move to mail-in absentee voting late on March 16, the day before the scheduled primary. 

Debbie Quivey, director of the Athens County Board of Elections (BOE), said local voter turnout surprised her.

“In my personal opinion, the voter turnout was lower. I thought it would have been higher,” Quivey said. “Is it because of us going to mail-in absentee voting? I don’t know. I truly don’t know why it was lower.”

On April 28, the Ohio Secretary of State offered limited in-person voting for those who, based on the guidelines, could not vote by mail. Quivey said every voter who arrived at the BOE that day was informed of the restrictions to in-person voting. 

Only individuals without a permanent mailing address or with a disability could vote in-person. At the Athens BOE, however, 19 individuals still cast provisional ballots in person without meeting the guidelines, making their votes invalid.

“We let them vote, having the knowledge that there is a very good chance that their ballot wouldn’t count,” Quivey said. “All of the people decided to vote knowing this ahead of time. The majority were just like, ‘Well, I just want to make sure I vote.’ And they voted to reject all 19 ballots because the directives we had were clear.”

With the November general election approaching, she said that she didn’t know what voting will look like. The BOE is preparing for both optional in-person voting and exclusively mail-in voting.

Quivey said they have received many questions about the possibility of voter fraud with voting by mail.

In recent months, multiple politicians, including President Donald Trump, have made statements discrediting the security of mail-in voting.

Quivey and various other Ohio election officials, however, have said there is no evidence to suggest that mail-in voting is less secure than casting a ballot in person.

She said Ohio has one of the best  mail-in voting systems. The BOE has an electronic system to ensure that each voter can only return one ballot, so it would be nearly impossible to return a second absentee ballot to double vote.

“There’s just no way. I just don’t see any way that it can be frauded,” she said.

Maggie Sheehan, spokesperson for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose also said that Ohio has banned certain practices that are susceptible to fraud.

“While other states allow potential practices for fraud like ballot harvesting, Ohio has long outlawed it, and has developed practices over that time that have ensured a secure, efficient absentee voting system,” Sheehan said. 

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